Felix Baumgartner epitomizes thrill-seeking. The 41-year-old Austrian skydiver already has a history of impressive feats: He has crossed the English Channel in freefall, BASE jumped from the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil, and BASE jumped from the Petronas Towers in Malaysia. Now he plans to raise the stakes.
Through a partnership with Red Bull, Baumgartner plans to jump from a weather balloon 120,000 feet above the Earth at the edge of space, breaking the sound barrier while plummeting toward Earth. In the process, he'll shatter records for the highest jump and the fastest speed during a freefall descent. Baumgartner plans to jump in August now that his legal team has resolved legal issues surrounding the project.
But there's more to the mission than pure adrenaline. In the video below, Baumgartner and his team of scientists and engineers explain how they hope to obtain valuable data about human spaceflight.
One notable member of the mission team is Joseph Kittinger, the current record holder for the highest parachute jump. In 1960, Kittinger rode aboard a gondola lifted by a helium balloon to an altitude exceeding 100,000 feet. He then jumped from the gondola, reaching speeds around 640 miles per hour.
For his flight, Baumgartner will travel about 20,000 feet higher and travel over 100 mph faster, breaking the sound barrier. To withstand the extreme cold, low pressure and tremendous forces involved with the feat, Baumgartner will be outfitted with a special pressurized suit.
Without the suit, the low pressure environment at the edge of space would be unbearable. When outside pressure is too low, gas bubbles form inside the body, causing extreme swelling, oxygen loss, and hemorrhaging of the lungs.
When Kittinger completed his jump over 50 years ago, his pressurized glove malfunctioned, and his hand swelled to twice its normal size. By testing these pressurized suits at high altitudes, researchers hope to better understand the risks of human spaceflight and how to avoid them.
In addition to low pressure, Baumgartner will face extreme acceleration — he will break the sound barrier within 35 seconds of jumping from his capsule. Large forces accompany rapid accelerations, so Baumgartner's suit has been meticulously designed by his team to withstand these forces.
As Baumgartner prepares for his jump, you can check out this page from Red Bull for updates, videos, and images.